It’s two years to the day since I moved into this apartment. Two years. And I only just found out we have a peach tree.
A couple weeks ago, my landlord knocked down an old fence in the backyard, and there it was. Not a big tree, and maybe a little scrawny, but baubled like a Christmas tree with small yellow peaches. My neighbor Jess and I greedily picked as many as we could reach, and squirreled them away. I ate a fair number of them standing over the sink, but then this blog post popped up in my email. So I made baked peaches. And oh my goodness.
These were easily my dream summer dessert. For starters, the simplicity is stunning: pitted peaches, topped with a crumbly mix of nuts and brown sugar and butter, baked until they’re soft and caramelized. The only real work involved is pitting peaches and chopping nuts. No peeling, no dicing, no flour, no oats. But even beyond that, this is one of those odd alchemical recipes whose ingredients turn into something more than their sum. The peaches become tender but hold onto their skins, and the sugar-bound nuts give the flesh of the fruit a deep resinous sweetness. Each peach half is its own self-contained portion, just intense enough and sweet enough to satisfy. We ate our peaches with plain Greek yogurt, which was just about perfect: a shock of dairy coolness against the hot sweet fruit and crumbly nuts.
You could easily do this with nectarines instead of peaches; choosing freestone fruits will make pitting and halving much easier. The most important thing is color: use yellow peaches or nectarines, not white ones. You want that faint sourness and light pucker from the yellow fruit, to balance the treacly sugar and fatty nuts. Plus, the yellow flesh looks heartbreakingly pretty in the pan.
Crisp-Topped Baked Peaches (serves 6-8)
4 yellow freestone peaches, halved and pitted
1/3 cup finely chopped almonds, pecans, or walnuts
1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
Pinch of salt
3 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
Whipped cream or Greek yogurt, for serving
Preheat the oven to 350º F, and lightly butter a 2-quart baking dish. Lay the peaches cut side up in the baking dish, and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine nuts, sugar, oats, and salt. Add butter and use your fingers to mix it in until the mixture is crumbly. Divide the mixture evenly among the peaches, mounding some of the topping in the center of each piece and gently flattening it out. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour (depending on the size and firmness of the peaches), or until the topping is golden and the fruit yields easily to a fork or spoon.
Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. Serve peach halves warm or at room temperature, with some of the juices from the pan spooned over the top, and topped with whipped cream or yogurt if desired.